Something happened last week, Warriors, that I’m still in both awe and shock over. I’m still processing. It’s tender. It’s fragile. It’s beautiful and it’s so deeply painful that it’s actually a visceral ache still today. It’s big and awful and everything UN-American. It’s also big and amazing and everything American. Allow me to explain.
Earlier this week I was traveling from Philly to Boston for work. I took a shared Lyft to the airport in Philly and was lucky enough to join in with a guy who introduced himself as Chris. We exchanged pleasantries that included asking where we were each traveling to. Turns out we were booked on the same flight to Boston. How fun is that? We settled into our shared adventure and began to tell each other our stories. Chris is from China. He is here as a student and on his way to visit both Boston College and Boston University to see if he wants to attend law school at one of them. He’s admitted to both (and several others!). He wants to study law and has a heart for education and languages and helping all students learn and flourish in a multi-lingual world. He especially wants to help English as a second language students learn English more effectively and efficiently. So far in his studies he has developed curriculum that is already in use at the primary level that is increasing outcomes and making a difference for American students. His approach helps native English speakers to learn other languages, too. He is young and smart and funny and curious and has a heart to serve humanity and help increase access and opportunity here in America. His face lit up when he told me all about how much he loves America and began learning English at age 5 and always dreamed of studying and living and being a part of the culture and success of America. Chris and I talked about living, learning, loving, growing, lawyering, schooling, having a family, and putting down roots. He is the epitome of the classic American Dream. This, he, is what makes me proud to claim these United States of America home and why I chose to serve in the USMC and fight to preserve our values as a melting pot of opportunities and freedoms for the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for all. What a wonderful gift to meet Chris at this time to remind me of who we are as Americans and what we stand for. I am grateful.
We arrived at PHL and made our way to security. It was at this point that the vibe shifted. Chris began to be noticeably shaken and nervous. He started to ask me questions about documents and wanted to make sure he had everything he might possibly need like his passport and boarding pass. He was scared. He’s here on a student visa. He said to me,”in this new America, this Donald Trump’s America, I no longer feel completely welcome. I do not want to take anyone’s job or hurt anyone. Instead I want to learn and help and be a part of society and culture and I used to think and feel wanted and welcome here but now I am scared. I am not a threat to anyone and I think now some people think I am and that hurts me and scares me. I can’t go visit my family on summer break after I graduate from UPenn in May because I can’t risk my visa status. I miss my mom so much! And I’m even a little scared to travel today. Would you go with me through security?”
This gentle soul. This brilliant young man’s eyes welled up as he stood humbled and heartbroken and terrified in front of me. I felt my rage rise as my heart shattered.
I grabbed Chris’s hand, looked deep into his eyes and told him that he is most definitely wanted here. He is needed here. I apologized as I fought my own tears and anger. Together we went through security and then shared a cup of coffee, a sandwich and conversation until we boarded and parted ways. Our chats ran from the meaning and origins of our respective given names (his Chinese name means 1000 years of possibilities while legends say Kelley means warrior) to colleges to foods to musicals and singing. I’ll never forget Chris and I hope he never forgets that he is wanted and welcome here. I hope he stays safe and secure and gets to see his momma really, really soon. ❤️? Semper Fi, Chuqiao.